It's appalling to hear some of the nonsense being talked about the Fraser Institute's recent report on elementary schools across the province.
Kids are in big trouble if they can't read, write and work with numbers. Before they're even out of elementary school, some children - many children - have fallen behind. Catching up is hard.
And some schools, year after year, are doing a significantly worse job than others of ensuring children meet minimum standards for literacy and numeracy. More of the children who go to those schools are starting life behind.
That should alarm us. The public education system is supposed to be the great equalizer. Poor home, inattentive parents, too many moves - all children are supposed to get the chance to learn the basic skills that will let them make the most of their lives.
But it's not happening. The latest report from the institute looked at elementary schools. It's based on the performance of students in Grade 4 and 7 on standardized provincial tests in reading, writing and numerical skills. The report includes information on the percentages of special needs and English as a second language students in schools, factors that can affect test results.
Many schools have great results. That's not surprising; B.C. has an excellent public education system.
But the results also show some big problems. The report, among its measures, includes data on the percentage of students who aren't meeting the province's basic standards for reading, writing and math skills.
That's a critical measure of how many children are being left behind. Up in Prince George, across the public school district, 22 per cent of children were not performing up to the basic standard set by the province. That's worrying in itself.
But there were also dramatic variations. In one school, only a few students - seven per cent - did not meet the basic standard. But at five schools, more than 30 per cent of students failed to meet the standard. At one school, almost half the students weren't able to read, write and do math at the level the government considered acceptable.
Parents - anyone with an interest in children and the future - should welcome that information. If almost half the students in a school aren't meeting standards for basic skills, the school needs help. If a school district has too many schools where students aren't meeting standards, the district needs help.
None of this means the teachers are bad, or the principal, or the program, or that there is something wrong with the children. It means there is a problem. It's not the children's problem; they just need it fixed.
Instead of accepting that, the reaction from some quarters - sadly, especially from some teachers, backed up by Education Minister Shirley Bond - has been to attack the review.
The basic argument is that schools' success doesn't rest on test results. The ability to involve children in a supportive community and help them experience the arts and sport, to make school joyful, those are important too.
That's true. A school that simply churned out students who did well on tests, without gaining the experience of working with others and the joy of learning, would be a failure.
But it is extremely important that children learn the basic skills that will give them a fair chance at life. When the report suggests that that is not happening for a significant number of students in a school, we should pay attention.
That doesn't mean panic at slight differences or one-year swings in results. The number of students can be small and results skewed.
But if two schools are in a district, with similar populations, and one is doing much better at ensuring students acquire skills than the other, then perhaps lessons can be learned.
And if in one of those schools almost half the students aren't getting needed reading, writing and math skills, then we have to do something.
Footnote: Some critics dismiss the report because it comes from the Fraser Institute, which has a mission of promoting privatization. That's reason to look critically at the information, but not to dismiss it blindly. The reason the report is widely publicized is because it responds to the near-total lack of useful information on school performance.